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BrewDog CEO James Watt to step down into ‘non executive’ role

The brewer announced today that James Watt, who has been at the centre of much controversy for the brand, will move into a non executive role going forward.

Instagram @brewdogitaly

James Watt will step down as chief exec of BrewDog following 17 years at the helm of the business.

He will be replaced as CEO by James Arrow, who has occupied the COO position since September 2023, as part of a succession plan that BrewDog says was put in place last year.

Watt will remain on the BrewDog PLC board in the role of  “captain and co-founder”, and remains a major shareholder in the company.

Speaking about the news, leading beer writer and db contributor Pete Brown said: “It’s long overdue that James Watt steps down. He has always been controversial and that worked with a start-up, but Brewdog now needs to redefine its culture.”

Brewdog chair Allan Leighton highlighted how the move had been set-up last year.

He said: “James Watt spoke to me last year about continuing to play a role with the business while freeing up time to concentrate on his other projects and interests.”

Watt said that he has “loved co-founding this amazing business and leading it for the last 17 years.”

“I am excited to take a bit of time off, to travel, to spend more time with my family and friends. I am also looking forward to being able to dedicate some more time to my other business interests.”

Calling Arrow a “proven leader”, Leighton said that the board was delighted to have him lead BrewDog “into its next phase of growth”.

He added that recruiting Arrow, who was previously MD at Boots Opticians, would “strengthen the wider senior leadership team.”

New BrewDog CEO James Arrow

Many in the industry will be questioning whether the board had encouraged Watt to step down for the sake of the brand’s reputation after continually being embroiled in controversy in recent years.

In April, Watt confirmed that almost 100,000 saplings planted by BrewDog in Scotland to sequester carbon have withered and died, with a spokesperson from Scottish Forestry saying that “the level of loss here is higher than normal”, though climate may have played a factor.

Watt also came under fire for paying employees below the real living wage, despite having previously been a vocal supporter of the Living Wage Foundation’s push. Defending the decision, Watt said that the company had to “balance [its] books” and admitted that staff wages had been raised by “20.4% since March 2022 and not the 26% that would have been required to retain a Real Living Wage status.”

Prior to this, Watt was forced to pay out £500,000 in a dispute over a “misleading” promotion that offered people the chance to find “solid gold” cans hidden inside beer cases. Competition winners complained that the golden cans were in fact gold-plated rather than “solid gold”.

Upon facing accusations of alleged sexism and bullying by former BrewDog employees, who branded the craft beer firm’s culture “toxic”, Watt revealed in January 2023 that he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (now referred to as a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), saying: “I have always struggled with anything emotional and I am terrible with social cues.”

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